Catheon descended through the illusion. He’d rebuilt his suit – his thrissulth – so it completely covered his form again. By exposing how it worked like that, it did lend credence to one popular theory about how those thrissulth worked for the Alohym. And, if they were right about that…This absolutely demented plan just might work.
Tythel circled the spot he descended through in a wide, lazy arc. He wasn’t scanning the skies – why would he, when he was the only one who could fly? “Where is the body?” Catheon said aloud, although Tythel couldn’t hear anyone near him. “Where is it?” his words started to sound more frantic as he began to search through the underbrush.
Tythel knew it was now or never. He’d take off soon, reclaim the skies – and in doing so, see her. An aerial battle with Catheon did not favor her. She had the instincts, but he clearly had far more practice. Tythel brought in her wings and stooped towards Catheon, breathing deeply with the dive.
When she got close, she let loose a long stream of brilliant blue ghostflame. Catheon shrieked as the edge of the flame caught him, the fire leaving his body unharmed but burning him at his core. His wings began to flutter, and he took to the sky, trailing wisps of smoke. “You – you can’t fly!” he shouted, indignation and shock combining with pain to overwhelm common sense.
Tythel’s response was to hurl the sack at Catheon. He responded exactly as she’d hoped – a wild slash that cut the bag open across the middle.
The payload was in the bottom and looked out at the sun, its eyes blinking in the sudden light.
Animals don’t have names as sentient beings do. They know who they are, others can recognize them, something as complicated as a name wasn’t needed. If the creature in the bag could be said to have a name, it would be in the emotional response his fellow creatures associated with him.
So this creature could, accurately, be said to be named Angry.
Angry rarely had ‘good’ days. There were days he found enough food and had minimal disruption, and those were the days he was less angry. Today had not been a good day. Things had been getting increasingly tense in the valley. Predators knew the dragon was dead and were starting to move in. None of them bothered Angry, not yet, but the increased fear had been a factor in worsening his mood. Then there had come a thing that was shaped like a man but smelled like metal and it had grabbed Angry. Angry had sprayed the metal-man-thing, but it hadn’t reacted. Then it had stuck Angry in a sack. Then Angry had been jostled around and suddenly Angry had smelled dragon. Dragon’s frightened Angry. They could burn from further away than he could spray. He’d gotten very still.
The dragon had gone away, but Angry hadn’t been able to get out of the sack. Then there had been lots of loud noises, and then the bag was picked up again and he could smell dragon. Angry was living up to his name and had gone past anger into outright fury.
Then the bag had been ripped open.
Thousands of years ago, before the Underfolk even had come to this land, there had been a race of creatures Angry’s species remembered in their instincts as The Great Eaters. They had hunted things like Angry, and they had been large and black and covered in chitin. They lived in hives and were very dangerous. This thing looked like a Great Eater but could fly.
So could Angry.
He flapped his wings to keep altitude as the thing that looked like a Great Eater but didn’t smell like one hovered in the air, staring at Angry. “What is this?” he asked.
Angry didn’t know what the noises the thing made meant. He knew the noises sounded like buzzes, and that sounded like the Great Eaters.
Angry knew what to do about Great Eaters. Flapping his wing, Angry brought his anus to face this new adversary and let out a warning hiss.
The thing did not move away.
Angry let loose.
Then the Great Eater started screaming.
Tythel couldn’t help but smile as Catheon clutched at his face. The Muskbat was known for how foul its defensive excretions could smell, so much so that people rarely got close enough to get sprayed. What wasn’t known was what the Muskbat would use that excretion for – it would spray it into the hives of communal insects, letting the noxious concoction kill them.
Because the excretion would turn their exoskeletons into paste.
Catheon had taken a full blast directly to the face. The Muskbat squeaked and flew away, clearly certain it had done A Good Job. Tythel couldn’t argue with that – Catheon was screaming now and flailing wildly. He was blind.
Tythel dove towards him again, her talons outstretched. She shifted to dive under one of Catheon’s wild swings and let her talons sink into his armor.
The smell was revolting, like rotten meat left in a latrine to ferment under sunlight. Tythel fought back the gag reflex and she let her momentum carry them both to the ground, dragging Catheon towards the forest floor. He fluttered his wings, but with her claws around him, his superior mobility didn’t help. It was just a contest of brute force at this force, and Tythel’s wingspan was three times her height. Catheon’s buzzing only slowed their descent.
Then they hit the ground. Tythel stretched out her arms and was rewarded with a sound like paper being shredded as Catheon’s wings were torn to shreds. He – or rather, his thrissulth – screamed in agony at the pain. Bits of its body began to become thinner, rushing on instinct to rebuild the wings, only to be torn away again.
Catheon finally recovered enough of his wits to regain control of the thrissulth. He formed his arm into a blade and swung for Tythel’s neck.
Tythel responded by slamming him the rest of the way into the ground. Her own momentum carried her forward, out of the blade’s reach, and sent her tumbling along the ground until a tree arrested her movement.
Catheon lay at the bottom of a deep furrow. He shuddered and his arms bent at unnatural angles to reach the ground at the side of the furrow. Gradually, he began to pick himself up. “You…think that you can…still win?” The words came out in a sickly rasp. The thrissulth had pulled away from Catheon’s lips, and its eyes ran from their sockets, exposing Catheon’s human eyes. They burned with hatred. “You are…nothing”
Tythel stood up and began to limp towards Catheon. He was slowly righting himself, his body twisting in ways that should have broken every bone in his frame, yet those eyes betrayed no pain. “Come then…” he hissed the words, “come and die, you pathetic imposter. I will rip-”
Tythel let loose a torrent of flame before he could finish. She focused on her breath, pushing aside Catheon’s pained screams, and the red-hot Dragonflame shifted to the blue of Ghostflame.
Catheon’s cries stopped.
Good, Tythel thought, too numb from the flood of emotions earlier. Now I just need to-
The thought was interrupted by a scream of her own as Leora’s dagger rammed into her back.